Americans love wildlife and spending time out-of-doors. In fact, more than 100 million Americans regularly engage in wildlife-focused recreation such as fishing, bird watching, or hunting.
Unfortunately, from bighorn sheep in the backcountry to the butterflies in our backyards, our nation’s wildlife are in crisis. There are three billion fewer birds in our skies than there were in 1970. Forty percent of our freshwater fish are in real trouble. In total, roughly a third of North American species face an elevated risk of extinction.
Currently there is very little funding for struggling wildlife, not even for species that are declining rapidly. This leaves the regulatory protections of the Endangered Species Act as the primary tool available to save species, albeit only for species at imminent risk of extinction. We believe there’s a better way to save the full diversity of wildlife before they reach that point.
Congress has long required state wildlife agencies to scientifically assess wildlife populations in their state and create plans to keep them healthy. However, Congress only provides a tiny fraction of what would be needed to meaningfully implement these plans.
The current approach is a lot like addressing a hole in your roof by moving buckets around your living room and waiting until the roof is collapsing to take meaningful action.
Fortunately, Congress is on the brink of passing the bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, the most consequential wildlife bill in fifty years.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would give the states $1.3 billion a year to implement their wildlife action plans in collaboration with willing landowners, cities, counties, and local non-profits. This cost-effective, commonsense approach is why the bill has such strong bipartisan support—more than 40 Senators, including 16 Republicans, are already cosponsoring the bill.
The bill will create enormous benefits for rural economies in particular. The outdoor recreation economy already generates nearly two percent of the nation’s GDP—a larger contribution than oil and gas extraction. In fact, one conservative estimate suggests that the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would create 33,000 new jobs each year restoring our nation’s forests, replanting our prairies, and revitalizing our rivers—creating healthier habitats for wildlife while improving our way of life.
The bill also provides $97.5 million annually to federally recognized tribes that currently manage wildlife on tens of millions of acres nationwide without a predictable source of federal funding.
The House bill, led by Rep. Debbie Dingell, has already passed with bipartisan support, and the Senate version, led by Sen. Martin Heinrich and Sen. Roy Blunt, has passed through committee and is poised for a vote in the Senate. However, with only a few weeks left in the Congressional calendar, we have no time to waste to ensure this historic and bipartisan bill crosses the finish line.
The clock is ticking. Our organizations urge Senate and House leadership to include the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act in any end-of-the-year package.
Our nation’s wildlife cannot wait. Inaction is the greatest ally of extinction. By passing the bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act before the year’s end, we will protect our nation’s outdoors heritage for generations to come.
Editor’s Note: This editorial was authored by Glenn Hughes, President, American Sportfishing Association; Collin O’Mara, President & CEO of the National Wildlife Federation; and Jeff Crane, President & CEO, Congressional Sportsmen Foundation.